“The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart–an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.”
–The Screwtape Letters
Here’s (above) how I ended up Episcopalian. Just as our days have rhythm–wake up, eat, go to school or work, exercise, eat, socialize, sleep–and our weeks have rhythm, experiencing both new things and The Same Old Thing, so why not our worship, too? Most every church has a liturgy, whether that’s what they call it or not. Growing up, I went to a church where we’d gather on folding chairs every Sunday at 10am in an elementary school cafeteria. We’d join in singing together to the words projected on a video screen (this was new technology–no overheads with copied transparencies for us!). Afterward, we’d sit, and hear the three-point sermon our pastor had prepared. We’d pray, and then we’d pack up the cafeteria. This order of service is a liturgy–it’s what we did every Sunday. In its basic form, it’s exactly what people who worship God have been doing for centuries–millenia, even–when they gather together to worship the Living God.
Near the end of college, I stumbled into a Roman Catholic Church. It wasn’t totally foreign, I’d been to plenty of services growing up, but this time was different for another reason–there was something about the prayers we prayed together that made me realize that Christians had been praying that prayer to God for thousands of years. Far from such a prayer seeming worn out or prosaic, somehow, its age gave it great power.
I wonder if some of its power is because it was The Same Old Thing.
Everybody goes to weddings; and everybody–especially lovers of The Princess Bride–knows the first words that are said, “Dearly Beloved…”–right? When we hear those words, sometimes they sound worn out, but even when they do, we minds can’t help but jump to other times we’ve heard those same words–when Grandma and Grandpa renewed their vows, 50 years on; when you were a flower girl or ring bearer and noticed that you were at your first wedding; perhaps, when you yourself were married.
It’s almost as if all those different celebrations and different moments stacked up in time one on top of the other, so that in a way, all of them were happening again in your mind’s eye. I think that’s a little bit of what Screwtape means when he says that humans experience reality successively–we think of those events as having happened on May 17, 1999 ,or April 20, 2004, or July 2, 2011–but in another way, a spiritual way, all those moments when those words align all happen at the same time. It’s not just the family members at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s renewal of vows, it’s all the people who were there the first time round and all the people who were at their parents’ weddings when those same words were said.
I became part of the Anglican Communion because this messy, passionate group seeks to pray together, not only with each other, but with others around the world and throughout time–that all our prayers may, in a way, stack up on top of each other and allow us to see God more clearly by our communion.